“Wow, you really love what you do.”
I get that a lot. A few months ago, I was out shooting a long time lapse project with a great client of mine. We were going to be out there for five hours watching the cameras click away, every eight seconds, so we had a lot of time for conversation.
She was asking me about what I did, how I got into the industry and how I juggle the various hats I wear from time to time from film editor, to photographer, to director, to writer, to teacher. It is a lot, and the days can be long, but all those hats really provide me with many creative ways to tell stories. Sometimes a client hires me to help in telling the story, sometimes it’s more of a personal artistic expression. Both of those require me to find something to be inspired about. Something that I can wrap my own personal enthusiasm around. If I can’t find anything to be enthusiastic about, I usually pass.
Finding the enthusiasm might involve loving a concept right out of the gate. It can be working with a client that I really click with. Maybe it’s a chance to stretch in a way I haven’t done before, taking a risk in telling the kind of story I haven’t told in a way that is fresh to me, sometimes working outside of my comfort zone. A challenge. Sometimes the assignment looks to be mundane on the surface and I realize I can bring something to the project that is unexpected. Finding a way to bring some Billy-ness to it. After all, a smart client will not be hiring me simply because I fit the skill set checklist, they’re hiring me because I will add to the story in a way that is… well… very Billy.
And if we’ve gotten this far in the process, my enthusiasm comes standard.
You’ll notice that nowhere in my enthusiasm mantra is talk of money. Money is important, certainly. And every project has to be looked at from a financial and business perspective, but I’ve learned over the years that accepting a job solely because it’s a good payday but does not ring any of my enthusiasm bells is usually a mistake.
I have found myself in situations in the past where I’ve broken that rule and mid-way through the project I have to pause and ask myself,
“What are you doing here?”
The realization is that there is nothing creatively fulfilling on any level, nothing to find to be inspired about, makes me die a little inside. It’s realizing I’m working for someone instead of with someone. It’s a huge chasm of a difference and it’s those times that I have to honestly admit that in that moment, I don’t love what I’m doing. It’s not good for me, it’s not good for the client and it’s not good for the project.
Even with the best of intentions, sometimes a project can turn out to be not what it was represented to be. Everyone involved thinks we’re heading in one direction, then suddenly we’ve made a sharp turn into less than inspiring territory and we’re already past the point of no return. It happens. I don’t take it personally even when I know my checked bag of enthusiasm is going round and round on a luggage carousel thousands of miles from where I’m now headed. It’s part of the business.
I try my very best not to find myself in a situation like that. Part of being able to do that comes with experience and making sure I have a specific point of view long before the train comes off the tracks. However, creativity is complicated. It’s a living breathing animal and collaborating with such a spontaneous thing means you have to be able to roll with the punches once in a while.
Years ago I had an opportunity to work for a very successful company for more money than I could have dreamed of. They pushed me hard to join them.
“How about a car?! Do you want a car? What kind of car would you like?”
They were great people and it might have been a fine thing for me to become a part of. However, I was having a hard time finding the required inspiration to throw myself into it. I would have been doing one specific thing and be paid handsomely for it, but it just didn’t feel right at that moment, somehow. The diversity of storytelling venues that, at the time, fed my own personal happy, would more than likely have gone away if I would have accepted the position. The variety and inspiration of what I was currently doing had more value to me from a creative happiness standpoint than a shiny new BMW.
It’s the power of saying, “No.” That little voice in your gut that tells you, yes, it’s temping but you’ll hate yourself in the morning. The velvet coffin.
Passing up the lucrative but unfulfilling jobs means I have to work harder. I like to say that these days we’re all working twice as hard for half the money. It’s brutal out there. Therefore, loving what you do takes on an even larger importance now than it may have a few years ago. Working this hard and being passionate about it and loving it, is one thing. Working this hard and wanting to blow your creative head off, is quite another.
It’s up to all of us as creative humans to find the inspiration, find the enthusiasm, work with people who are true collaborators and respect the back and forth of the process. At the end of the day I want to be exhausted because I really made something amazing, not because my creative soul had to be rushed to Intensive Care with a 50/50 chance of survival.
It’s the only way to be able to honestly say,
“Yes, I love what I do.”
The above photos are courtesy of fxphd.com, from a course I taught this summer on digital filmmaking. Check them out. Lots of amazing knowledge from those very nice people.